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Graphic Novelty²

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July 2018

The Nameless City

Faith Erin Hicks + Avatar: The Last Airbender vibe + mythology + friendship = must read!

I am reading The Nameless City with my library middle schoolers for our graphic novel book club early in August based off several requests of theirs for this book. Despite my love of FEH’s book Friends With Boys and my excitement for her upcoming collaboration with Rainbow Rowell, I had not picked this up on my own. I typically am drawn to more mature storylines, and as this graphic novel is marketed to younger readers, I had not made an effort to read it until I needed to. But the story is anything but basic.

The story takes place in the great city Daidu, aka Dandoa, named by the Dao’s, the most recent conquering nation. However, due to centuries of conquest, the inhabitants of many different nationalities simply call it The Nameless City. This politically important Asian city sits alongside a mountain pass and is the only route to the sea, making it a critical location for trade and military movements. An ancient people carved a passageway through the mountain, but the technology they used has been lost to the ages.

Young Kaidu, a Dao recently of the distant Homelands, is sent to the city to train as a soldier and meet his father General Andren. While out on his first walk with his father through the city streets he spots a young girl who is sitting on a roof and who nimbly runs away across the rooftops.

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Kai has reason to meet her again the next day when he slips out to explore the city unescorted, which is against the rules. He and the street-wise girl, named Rat, develop a solid friendship despite their differences, and she teaches Kai how to quickly move about the city overhead in an extreme style of parkour.

As Kai gets to know his bookish father, and the inhabitants of the city, he realizes that the 30 year reign of the Dao is not as stable as he thought. Undercurrents run through the political organization with the head leader, General of all Blades, and his son Erzi training new recruits to maintain their hold on the city. When Rat and Kai hear of a plot to assassinate the head leader they take action and much adventure occurs.

The art by FEH is spot on. She has created a believable and exquisite city filled with details in the architecture and in how she draws it’s varied people.  The color aesthetic is subdued with an earth tone palette. While many times she gives her characters extreme Manga-type expressions, other times she is more subtle and the variety is appreciated.

One good reason in waiting this long to pick up the first volume is that I can pick up the second volume The Stone Heart immediately, and then the concluding volume, The Divided Earth, will be available in September. I look forward to reading the entire trilogy and highly recommended this series!

-Nancy

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Hicks, Faith Erin & Jordie Bellaire. The Nameless City. 2016.
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Black Widow: The Name of the Rose

Black Widow is a spy – lies and secrets are her trade. She’s been accepted into the Avengers and they trust her, despite her past. Someone from the old days is haunting Natasha, leaving her black roses and ribbons, and exposing one of her most well-guarded secrets. That trust her friends and fellow heroes have for her may not hold up so well. Furious and determined to get to the bottom of it, Natasha sets out to expose whoever is behind it. ‘Tasha couldn’t care less if she gets hurt – but they’re going after her friends, and they’re going to pay for that.

I’m not one for spy stories or movies  (unless it’s Archer) but I enjoyed this story well enough. I like Marjorie Liu’s other graphic novel work, and that’s what prompted me to pick up this Black Widow comic. As a first-timer, I was a little confused as to the lineup change of one of the Avengers, but I eventually figured it out. Other than that, it was easy to follow, but I might have to seek out a different title for first-timers who may only be familiar with the movies.

The art is deceptively simple: mostly figures with very little background, detail, or other exposition. I believe this was done purposely so the reader focuses on all the action – which, of course, as a spy story, never lets up from page 1. It made for a surprisingly uncluttered look and reading experience and I appreciated it immensely. Some graphic novels written at a fast pace like this one also try to pack as much detail as possible into the art, which can make a book overwhelming. The creators of this one scaled back a little on the art to showcase the writing more, which in my opinion was an excellent design choice.

Sorry this one’s a little late – was having too much fun over PoGo Fest weekend and I’m trying to catch up ;D

– Kathleen

Liu, Marjorie, and Daniel Acuña. Black Widow: The Name of the Rose. 2010.

The Massive: Black Pacific

Earth has suffered several catastrophic environmental disasters in the space of a year, resulting in mass deaths and a new political order. Two marine conservation boats, part of the group Ninth Wave, survive the chaos but become separated from one another.

Text in yellow boxes detail the many ruinous events that led to environmental and societal collapse. In fact some events truly changed the landscape with coastlines and islands being especially hard hit. In the face of this, Captain Callum Israel of the trawler Kapital searches for sister ship The Massive.  Along with Israel there is mercenary Mag, mysterious Mary and other idealistic but weary crew members. This small crew of hardy environmentalists question if they can keep to their no-violence pledge in the midst of attacks from pirates, assassins and the dangers of changed ecosystems.

To be honest, not a lot happened in this first volume. Author Brian Wood, whom I’ve been reading a lot of, is busy world building so the Kapital just seems to aimlessly travel around the world looking for any clues of The Massive’s location. Just when they seem to have found a signal from the ship, nope, they’re wrong. The repetitiveness got old and I’m questioning Mary’s origins. She seems too good to be true, and her background knowledge and ability to survive catastrophes seems suspicious.

The artwork has an extremely muted color palette, symbolizing the postapocalyptic new world, and has certain color schemes that represent the time shifts in the narrative.  The stylized ways the characters were drawn took some getting used to, but I soon came to appreciate the design format and wondered why I found it problematic at first. There was welcome diversity in the crew and in the ports they visited, with a hipster vibe throughout.

While not bad, this story was underwhelming. Although I liked how Wood made this world seem plausible (except for Mary) and presented real ethical dilemmas, it didn’t grab my attention like much of his other work has. I don’t believe I will continue with this series.

-Nancy

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Wood, Brian, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown & Dave Stewert. The Massive. 2013.

Superman: Secret Identity (The Deluxe Edition)

Clark Kent is just like any ordinary boy. He got his famous name from his parents and their highly original sense of humor. He grew up in Picketsville, Kansas, just a regular ordinary kid. He’s the frequent butt of jokes at school: asking if he flew to class, why his super-speed didn’t kick in when his books are knocked out of his hand, and the like. Clark Kent is ordinary – until he’s not. Overnight, he gains all the powers of Superman. Now he has a secret to keep from everyone he knows. His parents. His friends. The bullies. Snoopy reporters. As he grows and finds his own way in the big city, his secret threatens his work, his private life, and his blossoming romance (with a woman named Lois, of course). How can Clark possibly keep his secret and live a normal life?

Wow. Just wow! I haven’t read much Superman yet, but this is exactly what I expect a Superman comic to be. Part of the allure of Superman is, that Superman believes in you! In your ordinary self! To stand up and be a hero! This is what this comic is about. An ordinary kid from an ordinary town finds himself bestowed with powers and helps people in his own way.

The art is spectacular. It’s quiet, with muted pastel colors and soft shadows. But with the quiet comes the power. It underscores the utter ordinariness of the life Clark Kent lives, and that he tries to maintain as he grows older. The extraordinary powers he obtains can’t take away the contentment he has with his life – they only supplement it. The art, which is not flashy or over-the-top like so many other graphic novel art today, underscores this idea. Brilliantly done. This is already on my “Best of 2018” list ;D

– Kathleen

Busiek, Kurt, and Stuart Immonen. Superman: Secret Identity (The Deluxe Edition). 2015.

LeVar Burton Reads

LeVar Burton + short stories on podcast = Reading Rainbow for adults!

As I detailed in an earlier post about choosing my perfect Star Trek crew, LeVar is the celebrity I most want to meet- from his portrayal of Kunte Kinte in Roots, to his love of literacy in Reading Rainbow, and then his Star Trek TNG role- I kinda love him. He has rightly been associated with reading for decades and there is a whole generation who would recognize his melodic voice anywhere. Thus, there are adults like myself who went from listening to him reading storybooks in Reading Rainbow to having their own children watch the show, and who now listen to his podcast.

LeVar selects short stories from many different genres and at the end puts the story in context and explains why he choose it. While some well known authors such as Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler have been chosen, lesser known authors are also showcased. He voices the stories expertly, and brings them to life for the listener. He ends each podcast with his catch phrase “I’ll see you next time, but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

The LeVar Burton Reads podcast is not to be missed, and I want you to take my word for it, and check it out if you haven’t already!

-Nancy

Pokémon Go: Friendship and Trading

The most exciting update to hit Pokémon Go since research, possibly even since the game’s release, just hit us a few short weeks ago: friendship and trading! Trading was an integral part of the man series games, way back when you needed a special cord to hook two GameBoys together so you could trade with your friends.

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In PoGo, it works the same but different – no special cord needed =P Each trainer is assigned a friend code, which you can share with other players. Once you have been added to each other’s friend lists, you exchange gifts! Gifts are received by spinning Pokéstops or photo disks at gyms. Items inside the gifts range from balls to max revives – and if you’re after the exclusive Alolan eggs, found only inside these gifts, make sure you have an open egg slot ;D

Not only do you get useful items from gifts, when you exchange gifts, you level up your friendship! Leveling up your friendship with another player unlocks rewards and incentives. These include stardust discounts for trading, bonus damage done during raids you participate in together, and more.

pokemon-go-friends-trading

I have 27 friends, most of whom are in the raid group in my hometown, but my fiancé, a few of my coworkers, and my partner-in-blogging Nancy are also among them ;D It’s been really fun exchanging gifts with everyone and seeing where they were playing when they got the gift they sent (Mine are probably all boring… most of the ones I send are from my work…). I was a lone player for a long time, but now I feel part of a community in a way I wasn’t before. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying they made the game fun again, just like it was the first few weeks.

– Kathleen

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